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Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company
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IT WAS in 1880 that Mr. Pitcairn, then an official of the Pennsylvania Railroad became interested in the making of Glass. He listened attentively to Captain John B. Ford, former owner of a steamboat fleet on the Ohio River, who outlined an alluring prospect.
Grinding sand dredged from the river, limestone quarries, salt beds, soda ash, natural gas to melt the batch, coal for power to turn the machinery, all cheap and conveniently available.Mr. Pitcairn became intrigued and seriously considered the matter.
He was aware that John Ford had already failed twice in similar ventures; first, at New Albany, Indiana, across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky, and later at Jeffersonville, Indiana.
He knew, too, that businessmen and investors looked askance at such undertakings because millions of dollars had already been lost in no less than a dozen unsuccessful attempts, dating back to 1850 when a company in possession of European patents started plate glass manufacture in Cheshire, Massachusetts.
The reasons for those failures were obvious. The process of plate glassmaking was intricate. All the latest machinery was built abroad; experienced workmen had to be imported. Expert technical supervision was lacking. Foreign competition was keen.
All these difficulties could be overcome with sufficient capital. Plants could be built, and with proper management the making of plate glass could become a successful and profitable American enterprise. There would be increasing need of glass for the residential, industrial, commercial, and institutional buildings of this rapidly expanding young nation.
So John Pitcairn made the fateful decision which launched his industrial career and laid the foundation for one of the most successful manufacturing institutions of the present day.
He invested some two hundred thousand dollars with Captain Ford and associates who organized the New York City Plate Glass Company. Construction of a glass plant already started by Ford at Creighton, Pennsylvania, was then completed, and in 1883 the new factory went into production. Determined that this enterprise should not go the way of its predecessors, Mr. Pitcairn became active in its management.
Plate glass was now being produced on a successful basis for the first time in American history. This original plant was to continue in operation for forty years before being dismantled and replaced with the modern factory in existence today and still known as Works No. 1.
On August 17, 1883, the corporate name was changed to
Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company,as it is known today.
Captain John Ford who by this time had formed the habit of building glass plants now left his interest in the hands of his two sons and journeyed up the Allegheny River to Tarentum, Pennsylvania, where he undertook to build another glass plant. Again it was John Pitcairn whose financial support made the venture possible and enabled it to succeed.
The new plant at Tarentum, when completed, about 1886, was sold to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company for one million dollars in common stock and became Works No. 2, whereupon Captain Ford proceeded up the river to build still another.
This time he selected an unsettled site on the east bank of the Allegheny River about forty miles above Pittsburgh. Here Captain Ford built not only a glass plant, but a town as well.
Ford City, Pennsylvania, is named in honor of this adventurous, pioneer builder of glass plants. Aside from the glass plants which still constitute its principal industry, a feature of the town is its park. Originally planned when the site of the town was mapped in 1887, it contains a statue of John B. Ford, standing, his hands clasped behind him, facing the factory he built.
Hardly had operations begun in 1888 as the Ford City Plate Glass Company, when negotiations to buy the property began. In 1890 the payment of one million five hundred thousand dollars in stocks and bonds purchased Works No. 3.
Almost at once, another factory was built on a site immediately adjoining Works No. 3. This new plant, Works No. 4, was equipped with the newest type of grinding and polishing machinery which was installed by skilled mechanics specially imported for the purpose.
This was a period of great industrial and commercial expansion—instant demands for plate glass exceeded production capacity. Lack of experience, among other factors, was the principal handicap of most of the newer glassmaking organizations that had come into being. The expansion was too rapid and resulted in the panic of 1893 causing the collapse of all but a few manufacturers in the industry. The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in 1895 acquired four other plate glass companies with plants located at Charleroi and Duquesne, Pennsylvania; Elwood and Kokomo, Indiana; and at Crystal City, Missouri.
The Company now had nine plants with a combined annual production capacity of twenty million square feet of polished plate glass. Its already extensive resources were rapidly employed to develop the facilities of these new units. There remained only three other companies which continued to operate with a combined capacity of five million square feet annually.
The history of glassmaking at Crystal City dates back to 1871, and is somewhat similar to Ford City in that it also involved the founding of a town. Failing completely in 1876 it was taken over by new interests and was producing some plate glass by 1880 although not on a commercially successful basis.
The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, as we know it today, had its beginning in 1895.
The Company was then reorganized; the capital stock increased to ten million dollars; Edward Ford was elected President; Artemus Pitcairn (brother of John), Vice President.
Stained Glass Examples from Catalogue A:
Millet's Prism Tile ca.1900:
Prism Glass 1923: